Some timely coach’s advice may have sparked US Open champion Naomi Osaka into action at the Brisbane International.
But the second seed credited a new-found self belief for pulling off a comeback quarterfinal win Osaka admits she wouldn’t have been able to achieve just six months ago.
World No.5 Osaka of Japan became the first woman into the Brisbane semifinals when she overcame eighth-seeded Latvian Anastasija Sevastova 3-6 6-0 6-4.
Her compatriot Kei Nishikori followed her onto Pat Rafter Arena for the first match of Thursday’s night session and overcame Grigor Dimitrov 7-5 7-5.
He was the fourth Japanese player to grace the tournament’s stadium court on Thursday; prior to Osaka’s match qualifier Yasutaka Uchiyama, ranked No.185, pushed Frenchman Jeremy Chardy to a third-set tiebreak before ultimately going down.
Another Japanese player, Taro Daniel, opened the day’s play on Pat Rafter Arena but could not stop former world No.5 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga from completing a 7-6(5) 6-3 win.
Daniel entered the draw as a lucky loser to replace injured top seed Rafael Nadal.
World No.11 Sevastova had won both her clashes with Osaka in 2018.
And the 28-year-old looked like making it three straight when she jumped to a 2-0 lead before claiming the first set in 33 minutes.
Enter Osaka’s coach Sascha Bajin. Called over by a concerned Osaka ahead of the second set, Bajin’s calming influence first settled her down – then clearly fired her up.
The 21-year-old came out swinging, claiming the second set in just 20 minutes before overcoming late resistance from the US Open semi-finalist.
An ace seals it!
— WTA (@WTA) January 3, 2019
“He (Bajin) basically said not to be so worried. It was just acknowledging that she was playing really good, and there was nothing that I could really do about that,” Osaka said.
“And that I had to wait for my chance, and I think that’s what I did really well in the second set.”
“Maybe six months ago I wouldn’t have been able to do that (come back). I feel like right now I’m really confident in myself … so I’m not that scared or threatened.
“I’m not sure if I would have had the same feeling six months ago – but six months ago I hadn’t won the US Open.
“But now I sort of know what could potentially come next.”
Osaka will play the winner of the quarterfinal between Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko and Estonia’s Anett Kontaveit.
Nishikori, meanwhile, presented his case for Brisbane International favouritism, prevailing in a high-class quarterfinal over Dimitrov.
The Japanese world No.9 rallied from 1-4 down in the second set to topple the Bulgarian in a rematch of the 2017 final.
The tournament’s second seed will play Chardy in Saturday’s semifinal.
"I want to go into the top 5. That's my next goal. … I think I'm playing great tennis again."
— #BrisbaneTennis (@BrisbaneTennis) January 3, 2019
Dimitrov glided through his first five service games but was exploited by the No.2 seed when he showed the slightest sign of tightness.
Two baseline errors and a double fault gave Nishikori his first look and, on his third break point, pounced to break and then hold serve to claim a high-quality first set.
The Bulgarian was again troubled on serve to open the second set but he still grabbed the first break to jump ahead 2-0.
But Nishikori kept coming. In a repeat of the first set, he made the most of another tight service game at 5-5 to clinch the decisive break and eventually close it out in one hour 41 minutes.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Alex de Minaur, Daniil Medvedev and Milos Raonic await in the other half of the draw, due to play their respective quarter-finals on Friday.
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